A recent study commissioned by the Community of European Rail and Infrastructure Companies (CER) has found that the introduction of trucks up to 25.25m long across Europe could lead to the abandonment of certain rail routes and compromise the emissions targets contained in the Europe Commission’s recently published 2011 Transport White Paper.
The general haulage regulation in the European Union is currently 18.75 metres with a 40 tonne weight limit. However, Sweden and Finland allow the use of longer and heavier vehicles (LHVs) of 25.25 metres with a weight allowance of at least 44 tonnes–a dimension also known as the European Modular Systems (EMS). The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany either accept trucks with this configuration or are running trials, but with 40 tonne weight limits (a configuration that severely limits their use for hauling finished vehicles). There are now feasibility studies being carried out by number of other European Union members into their acceptance.
Looking at the potential introduction to the wider European region, the CER study, carried out by K+P Transport Consultants and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, looked at the impact of LHVs (also called megatrucks or gigaliners) on two particular types of rail freight – single wagonload rail freight and combined road-rail transport – across five trans-European corridors: Northern Germany to the Czech Republic’ Belgium and the Netherlands to Spain; Scandinavia to Germany; Germany to Northern Italy; and Southeast Germany to Hungary.
Trucks with a 25.25-metre length/44-tonnes configuration were found to potentially force the highest model shift back to road due to cost advantages per pallet space, which equated to more than 22% compared to standard HGV says the report.
The study also found that single wagonload markets would be the hardest hit due the high share of fixed costs.
The report states that the intensity of the downward spiral in single wagonload markets, where decreasing transport volumes lead to higher costs per unit, could lead to their complete or partial breakdown in the medium to long term in specific regions or countries.
According to the study, 35% of rail freight would be shifted back to road on one of the corridors studied.
The study says that the overall effect could cause a rise in CO2 emissions, contrary to targets contained in the EC’s Transport White Paper, which calls for a reduction in CO2 in transport by 60% by 2050.
The White Paper’s target of achieving modal shift of 30% of medium and long-distance freight by 2030 from road to rail and inland waterways would also be undermined said CER.
“The Commission recognised in the Transport White Paper earlier this year that for freight, rail’s strength is on medium and long-distance journeys, and it rightly concluded that as part of a strategy to reduce CO2 emissions we should aim to encourage freight off the roads,” said CER executive director, Johannes Ludewig. “However, as this study shows, despite the claims of the their supporters, allowing the widespread use of megatrucks would have to opposite effect. Far from benefiting the environment, they would make many rail freight markets completely unviable and merely increase emissions of CO2.”
Outbound concerns
For finished vehicle carriers the situation is complicated by the weight limit–using a 25.25 metre truck would require a weight up to 44 tonnes to be effective. But there are also issues around infrastructure, as such trucks would not typically be capable of carrying vehicles into urban areas in Europe given the size of roads in many areas. Thus, the use of such trucks would prompt the need for infrastructure changes and the use of distribution centres outside urban areas.
In light of those limits, the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG), has not focused its lobbying in support of LHVs or EMS. Instead, it has been lobbying for a harmonized standard minimum length of 20.75 metres through the use of front and rear overhangs that it said would make it possible to go across multiple European countries without changing equipment or reducing loads load sizes. Currently, many different countries in Europe apply different rules, with some not allowing loaded lengths longer than the 18.75 metre standard. The ECG has called for a minimum allowable loaded length of 20.75 metres, which most transporters in Europe could currently load to without any changes in equipment or infrastructure. The ECG has stressed that the LHV/EMS and load-length debates are separate issues.
For more information see the European road transport article in the forthcoming edition of Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine.